Our True Nature

 

“The Buddha taught that our true nature is emptiness- a lack of a permanent Self- and when this true nature is realized, the divine states of the Brahma-viharas – loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity- emerge.”

“In the teachings of the great yoga masters, our true nature is Brahman, the universal soul, of which the individual soul is simply a part. When this is realized there is ‘satchidananda,’ the awareness of bliss, from the knowing that pure awareness is our ultimate nature.”

“There are moments small and large when we are filled with the transcendent, as though we have been lifted out of our bodies or the Divine has entered us as grace.”

“Both the path of transcendence and the path of immanence are beautiful, whole, and worthy. It is your heart that must find its true path.”

–excerpts from “Realizing Your True Nature,” by Phillip Moffitt

 

 

Inspired this week by a personal challenge to the true nature of our world and our humanity, it occurred to me that any unnecessarily extreme version of a worldview, whether it is based on science or religion or philosophy, can mitigate our ability to navigate  in the world of our everyday living, and if we could only see that much of the discord in the world could be lessened significantly by striving for a balanced approach to addressing any of the most vexing questions we are engaged in answering, we might find that greater progress is possible.

No matter how much effort we pour into finding an explanation of how everything works in the physical universe, and no matter how much progress we achieve in all of the related sciences surrounding our subjective experience of human consciousness, any effort to compose a comprehensive accounting for every aspect of our existence, if it does not include the contributions made possible through transcendence and immanence, will likely fall short of an actual understanding of our true nature.

One need not be an advocate of Buddhism in order to arrive at a better understanding of our true nature as living beings, and although ideas like the ones expressed by Phillip Moffitt provide an excellent starting place for approaching the subject in conversation and study, even those with no inclination generally to support specific religious viewpoints can join the conversation by examining the basic principles they address.  Whether or not we embrace such ideas as a matter of course or bring other opposing views to such interactions,  giving consideration to the full realm of possibility, at least as a starting point to explore the ideas presented in the quotes above, is a helpful tool in our progressive discernment process.

 

 

We are beginning to see a few hopeful signs in the willingness of scientists, philosophers, and poets, to at least listen to a greater range of ideas from their unique viewpoints, which include sincere scientific approaches, as well as genuine philosophical and spiritual inclinations found often in music, art, and poetry.  Just because some ideas come from a creative approach to human expression, they shouldn’t be automatically dismissed as “wishful thinking,” and well-reasoned, thoroughly-researched, and innovative scientific ideas should be given commensurate consideration when they are presented in the interest of moving our understanding forward.

In asking ourselves questions such as, “What could account for our intuitive sense of the unity of all life, when such clear divisions exist between species and among all levels within major branches of the tree of life?,” or “Why does anyone suppose because we are not able currently to fully account for experiences of transcendence and immanence as measurable phenomena, that giving consideration to the potential existence of such an idea isn’t worthwhile?,” we begin a dialog that can lead to an expansion of the realm of what’s possible.

 

 

I was recently able to review a National Geographic documentary, distributed by PBS, and appearing on Disney Plus streaming service, called, “The Greeks,” and prior to the Greek Civilization, much of what occurred in the world was cloaked in superstition and thought to be the result of the influence of benign Gods and malicious demons, but according to this presentation, that all changed once the Greeks set out to understand the world through reasoning and focused attention on philosophical thinking.  The mini-series is informative and interesting with a number of modern-day thinkers contributing to an overall view of how the Greeks contributed to important changes in the course of human history.

Did our inclination to abandon the notion of Gods and Demons influencing and directing the fate of humanity in the world originate in Ancient Greece?  According to historian, J.M. Roberts, who wrote a volume of “Ancient History,” published by Duncan Baird Publishing, 2004:

 

 

“The Greek challenge to the weight of irrationality in social and intellectual activity tempered its force as it had never been tempered before…They invented the philosophical question as part and parcel of one of the greatest intuitions of all time, which was that a coherent and logical explanation of things could be found…the liberating effect of this emphasis was felt again and again for thousands of years…It was the greatest single Greek achievement.”

Whether or not a “coherent and logical” accounting of consciousness might eventually include aspects of transcendence and immanence as essential components is still an open question, but a comprehensive account of the true nature of things begs the question, and requires a serious look at the kind of philosophical thinking inspired by the Greeks!

100,000 Page Views – An Appreciation

Appreciation Video

Click the link above to view my appreciation video!

 

 

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge a new milestone achieved here at John’s Consciousness.com – the accumulation of 100,000 page views by more than 50,000 unique visitors. It has taken me almost ten years to get here, and while I understand that it is still a modest achievement in view of how long I’ve been writing, and in consideration of having reached this level as a result of the many efforts of both individual visitors and an equally modest loyal fan base, even just enduring these many years in order to accomplish the task feels like a reasonably sufficient reason to express my gratitude and acknowledge the important contributions of my readers over that time.

 

 

On the way to achieving this milestone there have been many wonderful people who have stopped by here at johns-consciousness.com, and hundreds of thoughtful and interesting comments posted over the years, from people all over the world. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be highlighting some of the most popular posts from nearly a decade of effort in this regard, and sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stories about how they came about and, in some cases, provide some follow-up to the stories I’ve shared from years past.

 

 

I encourage my readers and visitors to share their favorites if they are so inclined, and would be glad to respond to any genuine query about any of the subjects I’ve written about along the way.

Thank you all so much for your support, and I look forward to sharing more as we move forward!

With kind regards…John H.

Reading in a Quiet House

 

The simple pleasures are often the ones that fall to the side when life gets complicated or hectic in its pace and most often, out of necessity, we are compelled to engage in the more immediate tasks and responsibilities that such circumstances require of us.  When we all recently had to confront the consequences of a global pandemic, again out of necessity, those of us in “non-essential” roles and occupations found ourselves isolated from most of our normal daily routines and social associations. The resulting conditions suddenly presented us with a much greater amount of time alone or at least with very few options with regard to activities and opportunities beyond the boundaries of our immediate locations at home.

 

 

Depending on the personal resources each of us can bring to bear on such circumstances, and the degree of wellness we experience during this time, the “social distancing” mandated by “an invisible enemy” created an environment where the constant stimulation of our modern existence dropped off precipitously, leaving many of us to our own devices as far as how to fill the time normally consumed by the routines of work and social interactions of every sort. Those who depended heavily on such interactions and work obligations for deciding which activity would take priority, suddenly find themselves in a kind of middle ground between the two worlds of routine activity and the strangeness of unexpected isolation.

 

We can certainly appreciate the challenges for parents with small and school-age children at home, as well as caretakers of those who require daily assistance under these conditions, and must acknowledge the difficulty for those whose dependents may be geographically distant. My own familial circumstances, as the parent of six grown children widely dispersed across the Northeast corridor and several southern states, at least has a familiar amount of social distancing experience taking place as a matter of course, but the social limitations and travel restrictions imposed by the current crisis affects even these routines, as visitations which were planned and might have taken place must now be postponed in the interest of reducing the spread of a highly contagious virus wreaking havoc now throughout all fifty states.

 

 

No one would wish to characterize these circumstances as advantageous in any broad sense of the word, and the toll it is taking is nothing short of tragic for thousands of families across the globe.  The pain of loss and the terrible suffering of tens of thousands of individuals across our world now could only be described as completely awful by any measure we might apply to such circumstances. Our own hearts must surely empathize with those inflicted during this time, and the stories of loved ones lost or suffering inflict us all with their potent emotional and psychological effects. We must continue to take every precaution to avoid exposure and maintain vigilance until the threat subsides sufficiently to allow a gradual return to resuming any semblance of our previous daily lives.

 

In the meantime, assuming that our mandatory isolation is taking place in a safe and illness-free environment with our immediate family or normally present occupants, or perhaps even with only ourselves, the task then becomes how to occupy our time and to maintain some degree of equanimity while we endure the crisis.

 

Even a brief review of the online offerings, which show a variety of choices for dealing with the challenge of isolation, and the innovative methods people are employing to encourage and inspire others, have demonstrated a preponderance of creativity and an unexpected level of empathy for our fellow humans that only this kind of seriously difficult circumstance might bring about. We have to decide how we are going to deal with the challenge, and looking for any positive choice possible regarding how to fill this time seems to me to be the only sensible approach, since the alternative would only make our situation worse.

 

 

Whatever method we decide to use, and whatever avenue each of us is inclined to pursue, isolation is now providing us with an opportunity to consider what matters to us personally, and giving serious attention to pursuits that may have been put on hold, as well as returning to simple pleasures that may have fallen to the wayside previously, now assume even greater urgency, given that we are compelled to occupy ourselves in ways that may not have been available before this.

 

For me, this represents a more robust return to quiet contemplation, to long and productive hours of writing, and to actually holding a physical book in my hands, turning pages, and mulling over the worlds represented in those pages, as well as having to step up my game a bit more in order to cover a greater variety of selections.  One such selection came as a suggestion from a fellow writer to review a poem by Wallace Stevens.

 

Isolation Contemplation

With much more time being spent at home these days, I’ve had more time than usual for actually sitting at my desk and have been reading and writing a bit more often, and taking the opportunity to consider more carefully the events in the world-at-large, as well as those closer to home. The photo above was taken of a tree branch right outside the window in my upstairs office, and got me to thinking about an upcoming event in my life that has been the source of some anxiety, and writing about it seemed like a good idea in order to help me prepare for it.

This week I started writing in a brand new writer’s journal presented to me as a gift over the holidays last year. On the cover of the book itself is an ancient map of the world, and as I began to record my thoughts on the first pages, I began to wonder about the origin of the map and launched an investigation to see if I could locate it. It took a fair amount of searching on the internet, but I was able to find it and it is a visually rich and intellectually appealing image, which harkens back to an age of exploration and discovery, no longer possible on the same scale except perhaps in the depths of the oceans, or out into the vastness of space.

Very rare double hemisphere map of the World, engraved by Henri Le Roy in Paris and published by Michael Van Lochum. The map is based on Hondius’ World map of 1617. The map was the first to show Le Maire’s Straits and the islands in the Pacific discovered by Le Maire and his explorations in New Guines.

When it was published in 1636, we were only just beginning to understand and fully appreciate the enormity of our planet, and much of what appears on the map is only suggestive of the actual dimensions and shapes of the land masses so familiar to us now, since we have the perspective of viewing the Earth from space.

Even though the world has been constantly changing since the beginning of time, in ancient times, they believed that most of what we could observe and know was fixed and immutable, and that the Earth was the center of the Universe. Since life was profoundly more difficult to endure and life expectancy much shorter typically, surviving past what we now call “midlife” was rare, and with the world nearly always in a state of war or at the mercy of conquering armies, there wasn’t much an average person could do to affect the outcome of events.

It has taken tens of thousands of years for humans to make sufficient progress in order to make the necessary changes that have brought us to modern life in our century. Yes, times like those we are experiencing currently may cause some to wonder aloud if we’ve actually made much progress at all, but with even a brief investigation of ancient history, we can see that life in ancient times was often “brutish and short,” and the concerns which we all feel so worried about today are, by just about any standard, far less worrisome by comparison.

Still, our lives these days do contain urgent matters with varying degrees of difficulty, given whatever kind of circumstances and limitations we encounter, and when we are pressed to make certain choices these days, it isn’t always clear which one is most or least advantageous. Due to a number of different circumstances where I live, I’ve had to make a choice to cut down the large tree out in front of my house where I have lived for nearly thirty years. She’s a grand old lady, this one, and after months of wrangling with the authorities and pondering the fate of the tree, it became clear that it has to be done.

Without getting too deep into the whys and the wherefores, the decision to take it down brought me to consider several other similar relationships with other trees, specifically, the even grander and older tree in my backyard, and one that recently came to my attention in the news. Current events have a lot of us thinking more about what is important to us generally, and while contemplating a story about a tree might not seem to fit logically into the narrative of what’s taking place now in the world, it got me to thinking about what meaning might be found in these events, and it felt right to explore it in the context of our connection to the natural world.

The story of the death of a very famous tree in California caught my eye recently and the response of people familiar with the iconic “Witness Tree,” in Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, California touched me deeply, especially in view of my own impending loss of a familiar arboreal friend out front. The story goes that the “Witness Tree,” was probably more than 100 years old, and had been the site of numerous events for locals during that time, but also served as a location for a number of Hollywood films and television shows, including “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” and HBO’s “Westworld.” In 2018, the now infamous “Woolsey Fire,” destroyed the entire set surrounding the tree, and so badly burned the iconic symbol that it wasn’t able to come back to life. One particular couple, who had their wedding underneath its canopy, posted a couple of photos typical of the many stories surrounding the tree.

 

My own reflections of my thirty-year relationship with the enormously appealing Silent Friend growing still in my backyard, give me a much greater appreciation of how these living arboreal beings could have so much importance to generations of people who interacted with them for decades. Contemplating the loss of any tree that has a familiar place in the events of our lives over a lifetime or more gives us a glimpse of what matters to us in other ways as well.

During this global crisis, with millions of individuals at risk from the virus circulating through the entire population of the Earth, it seems our best defense against it is to hunker down in our own homes, and remain isolated from everyone we know, at least physically, providing us not only with a challenging endurance run of being out of circulation, but also providing an extended period of time to reflect on the importance of all our relationships, including those we acquired right in our own backyard.

There are many thoughts bubbling up from within me as I write these days that beg for expression, and since there is ample time to attend to the need to release them, I have taken to recording them by hand in the beautiful journal that’s been sitting on my desk since the holidays, and reminiscing with my “silent friend,” out in the backyard, contemplating the impending loss of the tree out front, and how the unfortunate need for isolation from the rest of the world-at-large has provided this time for us all.

Isolation Intuition

During this time of social isolation, as we join in the efforts to support each other and to slow the progress of the recent proliferation of the virus spreading across the globe, it is important to keep in mind that even as we must sacrifice our routines and leave our normal social activities unattended for now, there are also a number of opportunities that this situation presents to us, which may have been set aside or pushed off to “another time.”

Wherever you happen to be in the world, the time has come to take stock of what is truly important in our lives, and there could hardly be a more advantageous circumstance than this one for accomplishing that, as we are compelled to spend much more time with ourselves and our loved ones. There are many hopeful stories and reports of heroic efforts in this fight to battle “the invisible enemy,” many of which involve our front line health care professionals, and all of those designated as “essential people,” who are tasked with keeping us safe, and providing basic services under extraordinary circumstances.

As there are many different people and cultures and worldviews to consider, the specific activity that may provide each of us with a degree of solace and offer us opportunities for gaining an appreciation of what is truly important can take a variety of forms, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with the social isolation we now must endure. For me, as someone who is already fairly isolated generally as a writer, and now as a semi-retired person, solitude is available much more often than in previous years as the parent of six children, now all grown up.

In a previous post about the libraries of the world, I placed myself in several scenes using digital photography magic, and a recent review of those images inspired me to place myself digitally in a few additional photos, only this time, as a way of expanding a little on the benefits of both isolation and intuition.

The background photos in these altered images are from the website of the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., and while it should be fairly obvious to those who visit here on a regular basis, my interest in Thomas Jefferson’s life and times has been ongoing since I was a small boy in grammar school.

Way back in 2001, in the Spring of that year, I had the privilege of participating in what was the Annual Spring Garden Tour sponsored by the White House, which permitted participants to roam the grounds of the White House freely, including the various gardens established by prior occupants of that fabled structure, like Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as the famous “Rose Garden.” Walking past the beautiful flowers and plants was a real treat, but standing on the sidewalk leading up to the “Oval Office,” was especially impressive.

On the website for the Jefferson Hotel was an invitation to stay there and take advantage of the Cherry Blossom display which normally takes place around this time of year. Sadly, this will not be available due to the current situation in the world, but I couldn’t help but reflect on how fabulous it was to be in that place that year. The events which took place in September of that year put an end to people walking freely through the lawns and gardens of the White House.

The quote at the top of the page by Thomas Jefferson struck me as being a very important reminder about what is truly important for everyone to consider, and while many of us are unable to go to our everyday work locations, it seems like a good time to give some serious thought to what would increase our tranquility, and perhaps also to what we might do occupationally going forward. Not everyone is working in the occupation best suited to their talents, out of necessity or other urgent causes, but time away can be advantageous to seeking alternatives and to pondering other important matters.

Tranquility is achievable in many different ways, but being socially isolated at length gives us a rare opportunity to explore the many options available without the usual interruptions, as well as precious time that normally isn’t available.

Our intuitive sensibilities can be enhanced in circumstances such as these, by allowing us an extended opportunity to seek out information regarding methods of developing and exploring our natural endowment as cognitive creatures, and also to practice techniques for tuning in to our own inner strengths and capacities. There are a number of resources available that do not require physical social interaction, which can be a starting point for the uninitiated, and a launching point for a deeper understanding for those already engaged in seeking to improve or enhance their intuitive senses.

One of the most interesting and commonly available areas to explore in this effort is the intuitive response many of us take for granted, when we encounter others in our travels, who immediately strike a familiar chord within us, one way or another, and we somehow know deep down that our response is warranted. This awareness of familiarity or a keen sense of a positive or negative response is often the result of a deeper level of awareness within us, of which we may or may not be fully or consciously aware. A certain degree of intuition seems to be inherent in our basic cognitive capacities, and depending on our upbringing and educational environment, there may be some additional enhancement, especially if we are encouraged by our caretakers to heed this instinctive inclination.

 

As we navigate through these difficult days of social isolation, it will be very important for all of us to keep in mind, that adversity and struggles, while challenging to endure, are vital to the well-being of all of us now, and since we are already required to stay home and to be socially responsible to our fellow humans, we might as well use the opportunity to attend to those important matters we normally try to defer to “another time.”

This is the time. The present moment now is where all possibilities exist, and we can think ahead, ponder the important questions, and imagine a world where sitting in the Jefferson Hotel library and staying there during the future Spring Cherry Blossom displays might just be what the doctor ordered.

What I have Come To Understand

“When someone enters your life unexpectedly, look for the gift that person has come to receive from you. I have sent you nothing but angels. Others see their possibility in the reality of you.”

–Neale Donald Walsch from his book series, “Conversations With God.”

Have you ever been momentarily captured by the strains of a melody in a song or musical piece that you were hearing for the first time?

 

Have you ever stumbled upon a broad vista or panoramic view while hiking and been momentarily overwhelmed by how beautiful it was?

 

Have you ever held a newborn child in your arms and marveled at the miracle of a new life?

 

There are many examples of extraordinary events that can occur in our lives, which are unexpected or have unexpected effects when we are made aware of them, and it suggests some sort of connection that exists between people and places, and the realization of a degree of resonance that can exist even without prior knowledge of or exposure to specific stimuli.

Over the course of my nearly seven decades of life, and considering the number of extraordinary events that have punctuated those years along the way, you might think I would have become a bit more adept at deciphering them when they occur these days, but life always has opportunities for learning and expanding our understanding and awareness, and right alongside of the challenges and struggles we often face each day, if we are fortunate, we also encounter moments that lift us up and result in degrees of enrichment we never expected.

 

Reviewing the positive and negative events in the world at any given time, it can seem that one or the other may be dominating, but as I consider what has been most often the case for me personally, on balance, I would say that trying to understand the character of each has been one of the main reasons I have been driven to investigate our very human nature, by both researching the many aspects of subjective experience and consciousness, and comparing them with my own experiential reality to raise my awareness of the extraordinary aspects of being a living, breathing, human being.

It also has occurred to me that I may be so thoroughly out of sync with the times—an outlier in the modern world—that any hope of progress toward my goal of raising the awareness of what I have come to understand about the world-at-large may be overly optimistic. Nearly all of my responses to individuals who, for one reason or another, impress me as being extraordinary or potent in some way, seem often to be inexplicable in temporal terms, and attempting to express the importance of these interactions sometimes creates a degree of confusion or uncertainty as a result. I have long since passed that point in my life where refraining from expressing my honest responses to others in this situation feels like the correct thing to do.

 

Since crossing over the mid-sixties in age, I am painfully aware that I can no longer suppose that there might be plenty of time left to engage in genuine expression of my feelings. Naturally, most of us have no idea how long our lives will be no matter what age we have attained, but it becomes more apparent in the upper ranges of human aging that, even barring unforeseen circumstances, we still realize more readily how precious life has become, especially in view of the smaller portion of life one might have to experience and to share our insights.

The events of my life have been particularly instructive in this regard, since I often refrained from freely expressing my genuine responses to individuals in the past, and I realize more clearly now, that tomorrow is not a guaranteed gift for any of us. If there is a feeling we wish to express, or an experience we hope to share, it becomes a matter of greater urgency, since there are fewer tomorrows within which to do so.

I understand that others, especially those who are not as familiar with these ideas and who are not approaching the age of seventy, as I am, may not fully appreciate this urgency in the same way that I do, but I cannot change the arrangement of the circumstances which exist currently, and must act upon the urgencies which present themselves to me in a way that is responsive to my own character and disposition. There is now little time to waste in hedging or delaying expression.

 

 

While I acknowledge that others also have their own circumstances to consider, as a general principle, I tend to defer to the inclinations of those with whom I interact. Conversely, I also no longer feel as though my own inclinations aren’t worthy of attention either. I express whatever it is that I feel in as measured and considerate a manner as I can, and if the response is positive, I allow the interaction to unfold as it will, and if not, I am fond of saying, “I am easily discouraged.”

I normally rely on mutual agreement to determine whatever degree of sharing might take place, and would not ever seek to impose my own inclinations on anyone. Many times, the initial circumstances which ensue upon meeting an individual who captures my attention in a big way, far from being automatically engaged, are now much more likely to prompt caution at first, at least until some reciprocal response is detected.

Once it becomes clear that there is sufficient encouragement to continue, I usually will, and if it becomes clear that continuing would impose some difficulty, I tend to step back or away from further interactions, recognizing that anything other than a positive response must be acknowledged as well. The real challenge comes when the individual is uncertain or vague in their response, and doesn’t give a clear indication of a negative or positive response. In cases like these, I tend to err on the side of caution, or, at the very least, refrain from any overt response, until such time as a more definitive indication is forthcoming.

Over the years, I have become a better observer of body language, facial expressions, and other circumstantial indicators, and have learned to better trust my own instincts. Self-doubt is still a factor in some cases, particularly when the interactions are intense or disproportional to reasonable expectations, but having suffered through a number of emotionally agonizing consequences from miscues or misunderstandings, I am far less inclined to go where angels fear to tread.

All of these machinations and interpretations of previous encounters still haven’t prevented me from suffering to some degree when an extraordinary individual arrives and presses me to respond in a more immediate way. The recent encounter with a “kindred soul,” which prompted the creation of the previous poem, was similar in character to some others, but, as the poem indicated, it was surprising in its complexity, and stunning in the degree of delight it produced with no apparent outward cause.

These are the truly mysterious kinds of unexpected encounters that occur so infrequently, and strike with such suddenness and intensity that I am typically thrown back on my heels, holding my breath, and uncertain as to how it was even possible.

In this case, I was fortunate to have time in between encounters to consider what my response might be, but even these advantages seem to have failed to prevent me from feeling completely confident in determining just what my response should be. Clearly, the initial response warranted an additional opening to the interaction which occurred several days later, but I am now beginning to wonder if I have tested the patience of an angel.

Underneath all of our temporal inclinations, beyond the considerations of brain physiology and neuroscience, and in spite of uncertainty surrounding the basic understanding of our subjective experience, the human spirit remains for me the “élan vital,” at the heart of all contemplation of human nature, and I savor the delight of interacting with every positive moment, and strive at all times to learn from the others, and to grow and share what I have come to understand.

 

The Allure of Sanctuary

Way back in 1976, a film appeared on the scene called, “Logan’s Run,” starring Michael York as a law enforcement “sandman,” tracking down people trying to escape from being “renewed,” at the age of thirty, in a futuristic dystopian world where no one grows old. He is assigned to go undercover and expose a place where those who don’t want to “renew” go for refuge called, “Sanctuary.” It’s an interesting film which also stars Peter Ustinov as one of the very last surviving “old people,” and it presents the viewer with some thought-provoking material regarding the value of maturity and of Sanctuary.

Sanctuary can be one of the most important ideas to ponder, as well as one of the most useful places, that we can seek out, no matter where we live, and no matter what our circumstances. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an elaborate or hidden place like the one in the film, but, by definition, it constitutes a safe location, but it may simply require achieving a peaceful and calm state of mind, in order to be considered a sanctuary of sorts.

 

It is difficult at times, especially in the midst of chaos or turmoil, to disassociate ourselves from our circumstances, even temporarily, and so a sanctuary generally takes place away from the general run of life, maybe a quick stop at a library, or a local park, during a walk on a brisk winter day, but with practice and determination, we may also be able to find sanctuary within ourselves, even when the physical place isn’t ideal. Wherever we are able to be alone with our thoughts and to disengage, even for just a few minutes, from our busy modern lives, we can find brief encounters with solace and sanctuary.

 

When we can actually divert our attention from the everyday hum of life, even a humble spare room in an attic or basement can suffice, and as someone who spent more than 20 years raising a group of six children, I can assure you that the effort to find even brief moments of what one might describe as sanctuary can make a huge difference in one’s ability to cope with the fast pace that such a life can attain at times.

 

My own first attempts at achieving some degree of calm and quiet as an aspiring writer nearly always required me to simply wait until everyone was asleep, and then dragging out all my books and papers and materials out to the kitchen table, and then dragging them all back before they woke up. Eventually, after the nest started to empty, I was able to cordon off a section of the laundry room for a desk and a bookshelf, so at least I didn’t have to keep moving everything around, but as you might imagine, the parade of people into the laundry room and the relentless running of the washer and dryer didn’t always add up to a clear sanctuary experience, but the “waiting-until-sleep” mode was still available.

More recently, as the nest finally emptied in the traditional sense, I was able to convert one of the upstairs bedrooms into a real “office,” with the customary equipment and options for dedicated application of a “writing space.” For some time now I have been able to spend continuous hours of quiet and calm in my own version of “sanctuary.”

 

Sanctuary should be a place where we can “let go,” and not worry so much about the world outside of us. Something important to remember, though, is that we cannot forget, even when we are in that place, that it’s not supposed to be a total disconnect from the WHOLE world, because every moment as a living being takes place in THIS world. It is mainly up to us to figure out how much is too much, and to what degree our disengagement must achieve in order to be useful and productive.

I occasionally take great satisfaction in the available moments of quietude to run a bunch of warm water and soap into the tub and withdraw into the warmth with some calming music to distract me from even the way working in my office can’t always seem to do.

The important part of all this is to recognize and establish whatever routines help us to “clear out the cobwebs,” or to seek refuge in whatever space might be available, and to attend to our inner life…advancing our “inner evolution.”

The Universe Is Alive

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Many times, when I am fully engaged in stillness and practicing my own personal version of mindfulness—giving up my normal attention to the present living moment—it’s almost like drifting back through time; with eyes closed, in near-perfect silence, I seem to be drifting not only away from the temporal awareness of the everyday world, but also through the eons of time. When we are properly and fully immersed in our “inner world,” our sense of temporal time disappears altogether, or at least, we could say, that time becomes irrelevant in any meaningful sense—more “apart” from life on Earth, than “a part of it.”

And yet, even in our measured and deliberate withdrawal from temporal awareness, “drifting away,” from what we know and experience as our daily lives, we are still part of the “universe of existence,” the foundation of which is only marginally and mysteriously accessible to us as temporal beings, but we still have a sense of our own personal reality, as we do when we are immersed in a tub full of pleasingly warm water, as the sound of our favorite music reaches our ears, as our lungs expand, pressing against our inner body with our rhythmic breathing, reminiscing about some delightful memory from long ago. Even as we might close our eyes, and contemplate our circumstance without the benefit of input from our visual cortex, we can still see—still conjure images—and ways of knowing without our full array of senses.

We all know of stories of individuals who have been deprived of one or more of the normal channels of sensory perception, either from birth or through some malady or accident, who have gone on to achieve in spite of the deficit, and who have been able to discern, without these benefits, the existence of the human spirit, and to “see” the world, just from a completely unique and extraordinarily challenging viewpoint.

Regardless of sensory deprivation or cultural limitations or disadvantages of every sort, throughout human history, there have been individuals who succeeded in spite of such obstacles to discover or affirm one very significant idea:

 

                                                                  ***        THE UNIVERSE IS ALIVE!    ***

 

I do not say this lightly, and I do not express it as a euphemism for something else. It is a fact. It is not only a physical fact; it is also a metaphysical fact, only knowable as temporal beings in this very human way. Knowing that what transpires when we are not physically existent is of a totally separate nature, we must acknowledge that our awareness of the true nature of non-material components of our existence cannot be adequately expressed in temporal terms.

To each of us in the current range of existent generations, it is a mystery—a conundrum which cannot be resolved quickly or without effort—without some deliberate approach to the spirit of life. We must reach for this aspect of our existence in stillness and in silence; and it is not guaranteed that in one lifetime, we can expect to unravel it all. It should be obvious by now, to anyone who has any sense of the mysterious at all, that consciousness is not wholly the result of or manifested solely by physical systems; it is manifested with the cooperation of and through our possession of the complex natural faculties that physical systems provide us.

However, the source, the origin, or the place where it comes from, is not in the physical universe. It is my belief, that the physical universe itself is a manifestation of a non-physical source, and everything within the physical universe has aspects and characteristics, which are direct results of the supporting non-physical world.

We use the phrase, “non-physical world,” knowing full well, that attempting to describe any aspect of our understanding, which addresses aspects of these ideas which are not physical, cannot be put in a context that would translate accurately as a “world” per se, or even as a dimension; the best we might hope for might be to refer to the ineffable as access to something beyond the physical. We can’t express it in more specific phenomenal terms in the physical universe because it has no corresponding link to any physical process or known physical laws.

Mother Nature, in her wisdom—the universe as a living entity—has indications, signs, intuitions, and inferences we can make in order to recognize that while we interpret the temporal nature of the physical universe generally as being composed of matter and energy, we also suppose that the non-material aspects and awareness of the spirit of life, suggest a simultaneous link to a kind of “divinity.”

Our complex human physiology and our extraordinarily complex neurophysiology may provide a window into our inner worlds, but is more correct to phrase our understanding of our physical nature as “a means to an end.”

Necessary and Urgent: Where The Heart Goes

“If your everyday practice is to open to all of your emotions, to all of the people you meet, to all of the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that—then that will take you as far as you can go. And you’ll understand the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”

–Pema Chodron, American author and Tibetan Buddhist. ordained nun and a disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Buddhist meditation master).

I can see myself, standing on a hillside, gazing out across an ocean of trees, the mist drifting slowly between the spaces where no tree stood. The sun had not fully revealed its brilliance; the sky was the deepest blue I ever seen, and I knew where I was going—to that place I had discovered all on my own years ago. When I saw it for the first time, I knew it would not be the last time. I somehow knew that there would be many more visits to come.

I know something about the role emotions play in our view of the world. As someone who had experienced a pretty full range of emotional traumas, emotional deficits, and emotional highs, it became necessary to investigate the psychology of emotional extremes, along with pursuing a better understanding of my subjective experiences, with an urgency matching the potency of those events.

After many years of effort in this regard, approaching the subject from a variety of angles, I have come to understand better that circumstances which seem inexplicable at first often do actually have explanations; choices can be made based on statistical analysis or on a hunch. Occasionally, some combination of empirical data and speculative ideas can yield surprising conclusions. All of the expected and unexpected urgencies in our lives, often tend to be less so once engaged, and we sometimes find that aspects which we did not consider to be especially urgent, ultimately rise in importance, and in ways we did not anticipate. At this time in my life, all of the experiences with feelings, and in making the necessary efforts that felt so urgent, including the creation and expression of these writings and ideas, while they have been at least instructional for me personally, still seem to be leading somewhere that I have not yet arrived.

Where The Heart Goes by JJHIII24

We must follow where the heart goes;
We must follow the path to where the heart goes;
We must embrace the path to where the heart goes,
And join with the others on that path.

I must follow those who came before me,
And travel with those alongside of me;
Anticipate the arrival of those who are to come,
Bringing together past, present, and future—
What we describe as what came before us,
Where we are now, and what is to come.

My place is the present moment now;
Synchronous events brought me here;
Contemplation led me to embrace the
Feelings and thoughts which embody the now.
My truest feelings, my genuine thoughts
Prepare me for the eventual moment when
I am apart from the temporal world,
Still somehow within it, but not bound by it.

I still feel strongly that I have a greater distance to go in this life, and anticipate the days to come with a fair degree of hope that I can hold myself together long enough to share what I have learned by being who I am, not giving everything away, yet not withholding anything deliberately. One day, all of us, regardless of what side of the fence we are on, will be confronted by circumstances which require our best, life-affirming response, and the world will be better for it. We cannot know for certain if our efforts in life will ultimately yield a path to the goals we seek; it’s an evolution—an Inner Evolution.

A Spiritual Hunger

“At the turn of the last century, people’s hope was in science, technology, and modern progress. As we approached this millennium, we realized the extent of that progress, and that it hasn’t taken us far enough. There is a part of us that still has a spiritual hunger. We have spent the past century looking at outer space and exploring that, and we’ve realized the importance of reflecting on inner space, the soul within.”

–D. Michael Lindsay, Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University, excerpt from “Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs

From the earliest inklings of creativity in our ancient ancestors, who painted images from their world in the caves of Chauvet some 35,000 years ago, through the development of symbolic writing on cuneiform tablets, which recorded the hymns and prayers of the kingdoms of Mesopotamia in the ancient Near East, to the pictographic hieroglyphs of early Egyptian love poetry, and the ancient verse of India and China, human beings have searched for ways to express the spirit of love and of life, which permeates our existence still today. We have become more sophisticated and technologically advanced, gaining in knowledge and experience exponentially as the centuries have accumulated, but with all the advances and profound alterations of the millennia since the first written accounts appeared, we have never outgrown our need to express the spirit within us.

We are part of a fantastic heritage of poetic expression throughout the history of humanity, and it is as definitive a proof of the existence of the human spirit as we are likely to ever know in any age.

Anonymous (c. 1567-1085 B.C.)

Without your love, my heart would beat no more;
Without your love, sweet cake seems only salt;
Without your love, sweet “shedeh” turns to bile. (*shedeh* = ancient Egyptian drink made from red grapes)
O listen, darling, my heart’s life needs your love;
For when you breathe, mine is the heart that beats.

–excerpt from a Bronze Age Egyptian courtship poem, translated by Ezra Pound and Noel Stock, 1998 volume of World Poetry

Centuries later, as an emerging adult in the 20th century, I penned a courtship poem of my own, which shows, perhaps, how little has changed in human nature, in spite of advancement in numerous other ways:

Spirit of Love

“A long time ago, in centuries past,
We existed on a plane that can no longer be reached.
It is clearly in the past, but it also here and now
In my wandering mind. We breathed the same air.
Our hearts beat in rhythmic unison.
I gazed deeply into your eyes; inhaled the scent
Which rose from your body as I embraced the spirit inside you.

At such moments, though bodies only touch, spirits merge;
We were lovers, with lips pressed together–
We were one–my heart rose with each embrace;
My spirit expanded until it encompassed yours;
It has happened a hundred times a hundred times over centuries
And now, I know your spirit.
I can see myself in you;
Our paths are illuminated by each other.

As a young man, unaware that he was on the threshold of a profound awakening, the tumultuous events which would follow my arrival at the doorstep of my truly independent life were only heightened by a growing acknowledgement of being without a Polestar, for the first time in my young life, and by my inability to turn off the extraordinary natural inclination to open myself to whatever might come. While it may have been the traumatic and unprepared transition to independence that left me vulnerable to the events which followed, the power of my connection to something beyond the immediate moment in which I was living made the impact even greater.

Growing up in a large extended family, an emphasis was often stated not only about my responsibility to care about those within the family circle, but also to those outside of that world and into the world-at-large. As a result, I developed a more conscientious approach to social interactions as I grew into adulthood, and frequently found myself engaged in a greater degree of involvement emotionally and psychologically in a variety of relationships. Consequently, an even greater sense of empathy began to take hold than was already established as an almost inherited trait. Whatever part of the brain that handles our inherent tendency for empathy must surely have been more expanded in my case, to the point of bordering on possessing a pathological condition, given that my experiences many times seemed to exceed those of most others I encountered.

In retrospect, it seems that my own keen sense of extending myself toward others, may have amplified the same natural sense within them, in some cases, sparking a kind of alarm or surprise, which they occasionally found unsettling and unexpected. When this sense within ME was fully engaged, it always felt like a consequence of my inner self RECEIVING stimulus from a source outside of myself, and the resulting heightened perceptions, far from being something I would naturally choose or impose on a given situation, felt completely natural and shared–a resonance of sorts–with empathic waves being directed AT ME.

Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist described the process of our unfolding development as Individuation, “an expression of that biological process–simple or complicated as the case may be–by which every living thing becomes what it is destined to become from the beginning. This process naturally expresses itself in man as much psychically as somatically.”

There are two competing schools of thought that still persist in pursuing a greater understanding of our true nature, and while I continue to contemplate how they must both be approaching that understanding, these quotes show the ongoing dilemma of the contrast:

“What it means to be me cannot be reduced to or uploaded to a software program running on a robot, no matter how sophisticated. We are flesh and blood biological animals, whose conscious experiences are shaped at all levels by the biological mechanisms that keep us alive.”

–Anil Seth, British professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex

“At the heart of consciousness is the transcendence of thought; a newfound ability of rising above thought, and realizing a dimension within ourselves that is infinitely more vast than thought…Each of us is a vehicle through which consciousness operates.”

–Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now,” and “A New Earth.”